Nearly two months after Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora retracted a student’s pro-choice opinion article and fired the two teachers who oversaw its publication, thousands of Christians across the U.S. have signed a petition urging the school to publish the article and reinstate the teachers.
The petition, which has gathered over 11,000 signatures to date, opens with: “Silencing a student’s voice and firing teachers is neither a pro-life nor a Christian response to ideas expressed in an opinion essay.”
According to the petition’s website, the two instructors, Maria Lynch and Nicole Aduini, were dismissed less than a week after the school’s principal had thanked them for their work on the student magazine issue with the controversial op-ed, which was published in December. In mid-January, about 15 Regis Jesuit students walked out of the school to protest the firings.
Lynch, a self-proclaimed “pro-life advocate,” told the National Catholic Reporter that censoring students and punishing teachers for allowing them to freely express themselves is counterproductive to educating young Catholics.
“Our students have tough questions, need to have the freedom to express them, and deserve open and frank discussions that can help them understand why the church teaches what she does,” Lynch said.
In the wake of the event, Lynch requested to meet with Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila but was denied. Aquila has publicly praised Regis Jesuit’s decision to retract the student’s piece on the grounds that it contradicted church teachings.
Lynch’s concerns are echoed in the language of the petition. The second paragraph reads:
“Education should help develop critical thinking skills and the ability to engage with others who hold opposing positions. By removing a female student’s pro-choice essay from the school’s student magazine and firing two teachers, you have sent a message that debate and discussion about abortion will not be tolerated.”
A rigorous education is a fundamental tenet of Jesuit philosophy, which Regis Jesuit claims to embrace. Its website states, “We do not tell our students what to think; we teach them how to think and how to discern with an informed conscience.”
Furthermore, the petition notes, the majority of Catholics are against criminalizing abortion, and the school’s “extreme” reaction to the student’s op-ed served to “associate the anti-abortion movement in the Catholic Church with fear and intimidation.”
Members of the Catholic community have spoken out against Regis Jesuit’s actions. Here’s what some of them had to say:
“I was appalled to hear that my alma mater fired two teachers for allowing an op-ed about abortion in the student newspaper. These firings are in sharp contrast to the Jesuit ideals that Regis instilled in me as a student, which included an appreciation for treating all people with equal dignity and the value of learning from diverse perspectives during intellectual debates. When school leaders made this decision, they sent a harmful message to their student body and their employees that these ideals are no longer valued.”Sean Coffey, Regis Jesuit High School Class of 1999, Faithful America member
“Catholic schools should be places where students feel safe to ask questions and explore the promptings of their conscience. The Catholic Church teaches that a well-formed conscience is an essential part of a mature faith. As Pope Francis has said, the church is called to ‘form consciences, not replace them.’ Shutting down dialogue and discouraging disagreement over challenging issues undercuts the spiritual and intellectual formation that is so essential to young people.”Natalia Imperatori-Lee, Professor & Chairperson, Religious Studies Department at Manhattan College
“In my view, students learn best when they engage in a discussion personally and make values their own by debating different analyses of a question. This is why Socrates was and still is such a successful teacher. Catholic pro-life values won’t win any adherents by telling high school students they are not allowed to think for themselves.”Lisa Sowle Cahill, Professor of Theology at Boston College
“It’s important that students and teachers think seriously about key issues in our society. Catholic schools, and especially Jesuit schools that have a rich intellectual tradition, must support free speech and allow discussion of issues done respectfully, openly and with charity.”Kathleen Mass Weigert, professor emerita at Loyola University Chicago